Bush to Boost Marine Conservation

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President Bush on Friday proposed an 8 percent increase in the $1.75 billion federal budget for coastal and marine conservation programs.

The president hopes “to clean up our oceans and coastlines,” said Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, whose agency includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would get most of the additional $143 million budget request.

NOAA would receive $123 million, allowing it to do more research and improve ocean protections, said Arden Bement, director of the National Science Foundation.

Another $20 million would go to the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, helping increase research, sea floor mapping, forecast models, and water quality monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and other coastal areas.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the budget request reflects the awareness that oceans no longer can be considered inexhaustible or indestructible.

“Only in recent decades have we come to realize we must take care of them as we would take care of any precious natural resource,” he said.

This month, Bush signed into law a measure that overhauls management of marine fisheries and strengthens protections against further depletion of dwindling stocks.

It reauthorizes through 2013 the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a 30-year-old law that guides fishery management in waters between three miles and 200 miles offshore. It also aims to end overfishing in America by 2011.

Last year, Bush created a vast new marine sanctuary, extending stronger federal protections to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters in the Pacific Ocean that are home to endangered monk seals, nesting green sea turtles and other rare species.

He also sought to have the United Nations impose a full-fledged ban against unregulated and destructive bottom trawling on the high seas, but he was opposed by fishing nations that sponsor the boats that drag the giant nets along the sea floor.